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"Eat something": Can a prenatal diet influence a child's personality?

When it comes to the pregnancy phase, one of the classic phrases used by future grandparents is "Eat something." This phrase contains a fundamental truth: During pregnancy, we create the most valuable gift of our lives, our children, and it all begins with a single fertilized egg. To help them develop, we'll need a precise work plan coded with the genetic material we've passed down and building blocks sourced from our diet. Could what we eat during pregnancy have such an impact on the fetus's healthy growth and physical systems, as well as who he grows up to be?



Epigenetics, nutrition, and pregnancy

During the development of our precious fetus, not only do its central systems, such as the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and neurological systems, develop but also the first codes for how these systems operate are written. The epigenetic code is a set of instructions that regulate how our DNA is turned on and off. The word "epic" derives from the Greek word "above," suggesting that this code exists above our genetic code (DNA). What is the purpose of this code? A chemical compound known as a methyl group is one of the most common ways to write this activation code. The presence of this molecule above the genetic code, in most circumstances, functions as a kind of stopper, inhibiting genetic activity. A specific gene's reading can be inhibited, making it less present. The methyl units must be reduced for the gene to become active. This allows genetic activity to be regulated and genes to be directed on how much, when, and where they should operate. For the healthy development of the fetus, this process of developing the operating code for the body systems is crucial. As part of regulating how the nervous system and brain work, this activation code affects the layout of numerous body systems and the foundations of some character traits.


What does this have to do with our diet?

Methyl units are required for the activation code generating process to function correctly. We would have to intake these molecules from our diet for them to be available, with folic acid, a B vitamin component, being one of the most essential and well-known sources for it among pregnant women. What happens if we consume too little or too much folic acid, for example? This is the lesson that mice will teach us this time.


Folic acid and dietary effects on mice

A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina used mice to study the influence of nutrition, specifically folic acid, on changes in the behavior and appearance of fetuses. What makes mice successful? Because a single gene determines their fur color, the influence of their diet was predicted to be visible. What exactly did the researchers do?

They collected the mice's mothers and fed them various diets, ranging from low-folic-acid feeds to high-folic-acid feeds. The more folic acid there is, the more methyl molecules. The more methyl molecules in the genetic code, the more knots form, inhibiting the activation of certain genes. What was the outcome? The gene for the golden hair color of the mice became less evident as the amount of folic acid in the feeds increased, and the offspring were born with a darker color.

What is the conclusion? Diet provides the critical components for our baby's healthy growth and the building blocks for writing the code that activates their DNA which, as an outcome, can influence who they become. A balance in the food we eat is essential for the process to function naturally and healthily, with neither too much of one food nor too little of another. Too much or too little of a certain type of food can cause abnormal developments in our children while still in the womb, affecting their bodies and personalities.

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